The Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) in Mount Vernon will coordinate an 11-county food distribution project throughout the Puget Sound region aimed at supporting farmers, food hubs and increasing access to locally-grown foods.
A $994,400 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Regional Food System Partnerships Program is providing the bulk of the funds for the $1.2-million project, according to a news release.
Over the next three years, the NABC will work with more than 30 entities to support food system infrastructure, food access and education.
One part of the project is supporting the nine farmer-owned food hub cooperatives in the Puget Sound region.
“NABC will coordinate with over 200 agricultural producers, currently serving more than 300 supermarkets, institutional food service providers, restaurants and food banks,” the news release states.
NABC Executive Director David Bauermeister said the project will enable food hubs to work together and share resources.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the NABC has helped launched four new food hubs on Whidbey Island, San Juan Island, in Snohomish County and in southwest Washington.
Bauermeister said one advantage of a cooperative model is that it is designed to benefit the co-op’s farmer-owners, rather than the shareholders of a company.
The project will also work to increase food access and address food deserts, which are areas where it is difficult to access high-quality and affordable food.
“We need food hubs, farmers and food banks all working together to ensure everyone can have access to good food including fresh fruits and vegetables,” Bauermeister said in the news release. “We intend to look most closely at our communities facing persistent poverty.”
The NABC also received grant funds from the USDA to support veterans and socially-disadvantaged farmers.
Three grants totaling $775,000 will allow the NABC “to provide customized support, break down language barriers, and provide access to capital, new markets and business management services for veterans and people of color from the Latino, Hmong and African immigrant farming communities,” a news release states.